Haiti political violence flares

A crisis over Haiti`s stalled Presidential Election has deepened.

Port-au-Prince: Violence flared in the Haitian capital early Friday, with witnesses reporting gunfire, as a crisis over the country`s stalled Presidential Election deepened.

The protests flared hours after President Rene Preval was handed an official report from international monitors calling on his preferred successor to drop out of the race to replace him.

In the north of the capital Port-au-Prince, the remains of burned tires scorched the tarmac in several streets. Residents said they had been set alight during the night.

Witnesses and Haiti`s Radio Metropole spoke of armed gangs and said that shots were fired in a confrontation with police.

By early morning, tensions had largely dissipated in the city, still in ruins after last year`s earthquake. "There was trouble and some of them had guns, but we controlled the situation," a local police officer said.

National police spokesman Gary Desrosiers told Haitian radio stations that police had made a dozen arrests. Radio Metropole reported that firearms had been confiscated.

Desrosiers did not identify who was behind the unrest. However, Port-au-Prince residents had no doubt that supporters of Preval`s would-be successor, Jude Celestin, were to blame.

One man, Carlos Jean Charles, said he`d been approached by gang leaders late Thursday and offered money if he and his associates rioted -- an arrangement said to be common in Haiti.

"There`s 200 of us and we fight. We fight for money," said Charles, who said he lives in the violent slum of Cite Soleil, a frequent recruiting ground for Haitian mobs.

"But they only offered 2,000 Haitian dollars (USD 253) and that wasn`t enough. That`s beer money. We need real money."

The trouble erupted the morning after international election experts formally handed over a report calling for Celestin to withdraw from the delayed runoff round in the presidential race, because of alleged vote-rigging.

The experts with the Organization of American States (OAS) were discussing their findings with Preval`s government on Friday.

The head of the OAS mission, Colin Granderson, said talks between monitors and the government "will wrap up early next week and the report will be published at that time”.

Albert Ramdin, OAS assistant secretary general, called the matter "delicate" but said that negotiations were "constructive”.

"We have to appeal to all politicians to remain calm and to let the process continue. I think we`re getting close to the end of that process," he said.

Preval, who is due to step down, had been hoping to see his ally Celestin take his place, likely, at least in part, to ensure his own security. Haiti`s previous leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, had to flee the country when he was deposed in a 2004 coup.

If Celestin drops out, his closest rival, Michel Martelly, would face off against front-runner former first lady Mirlande Manigat, in a second round runoff.

Supporters of each candidate have clashed on the streets in recent weeks since the first round of elections on November 28. Violent protests erupted in the capital in the wake of the initial poll results released in early December.

In interviews, residents of Port-au-Prince repeatedly say that violent protests are the work of rent-a-mobs, rather than real political supporters of any particular candidate.

Charles, who said a missing front tooth had been punched out, claimed that a large group would "do anything" and make a "big fight" for about 12,000 dollars.

He said he did not personally support Celestin but that money talked. "We are poor. We really need money. You pay a little, we give a little trouble. You give big money and people die."

Although Charles` claims could not be confirmed, rent-a-mobs are widely said to be common here.

In a tent camp in the centre of Port-au-Prince for people left homeless by the earthquake, a man who went by the name Snoop said he was scared.

"That`s how Haitian politics works," he said of the rioters. "I don`t feel safe in my tent here. If we have a war, then you need walls. A wall would stop a bullet. But not a tent."

The troubles come as Haitians this week marked the first anniversary of the January 12, 2010 quake that killed almost a quarter million people and left hundreds of thousands homeless in squalid camps.

The paralysis over the next round in the elections concerning who will be on the ballot means the scheduled date for the runoff will be missed. A new date has not yet been agree on.

Bureau Report

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